Geoff Berner finds new meaning in musicians of Bremen fairy tale

We are Going to Bremen to Be Musicians features thought-provoking songs about everything from Vancouver condos to the commercialization of Chanukah.

Rebel accordion player performs a potent brew of klezmer, punk and politics

Geoff Berner's new album We are Going to Bremen to Be Musicians features thought-provoking songs about everything from Vancouver condos to the commercialization of Chanukah. (Frank Vena)

Vancouver singer-songwriter and accordion player Geoff Berner became obsessed with the classic fairy tale Town Musicians of Bremen while touring Germany and visiting the northern city of Bremen.

There was something that struck him in the Grimm Brother's story, which tells of a donkey, dog, cat and a rooster who, being past their prime and soon to be discarded by their owners, set out for Bremen to become professional musicians.

Dealing with parents' deaths

"I think the obsession with the story was probably partly a matter of trying to process the loss of my parents who died from cancer in a very short stretch of time," said Berner of the story, in which the animals come into possession of a cottage filled with stolen goods.

"Grappling with the story was me trying to find a backdoor to processing what was going on in my life at the time … contemplating and dealing with mortality of people who were really great parents and very important to me."

The tale went on to inspire Berner's new album We are Going to Bremen to Be Musicians, which features thought-provoking songs about everything from Vancouver condos to the commercialization of Chanukah.

(Tin Can Forest)

Album and graphic novel

Berner, whose music is a potent brew of klezmer (the traditional music of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe), punk and politics, also wrote a graphic novel We Are Going to Bremen to be Musicians to accompany the album.

His dark retelling of Town Musicians of Bremen was illustrated by Toronto-based artists Tin Can Forest, whom Berner said embraced the story as an "animal rights narrative."

In Berner's retelling, and in most versions of the fairy tale, the animals continue to stay in the cottage filled with stolen goods, playing music and living happily ever after, never actually reaching Bremen.

"They live happily ever after having concocted a really stupid plan that turns out to have been better than just lying down and letting people kill you," Berner said.

"I took some solace in the idea that even if you feel doomed, it's good to make a plan because it's better than just being dead already."

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